Vir Cantium

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Deja Vu in Tottenham: Deprived of What, Exactly?

Entrance to Broadwater Farm, London N17

Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham: scene of the 1985 riots

I have never been to Tottenham. Hailing from leafy Kent, I’ve had little need to. There are two things that I associate with the place: a football team and the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985 when another generation of ‘disaffected black youths’ from the ‘deprived area’ ‘protested’ against the police by trashing their local neighbourhood and, in that particular event, murdering someone.

My thoughts are with those injured and I am relieved that, as things appear now, we have not seen a repeat of the bloody outcome of the ’85 riots when PC Keith Blakelock was murdered by a mob of rioters.

Back then, we had the delectable Bernie Grant, local MP, declaring that the police had “a bloody good hiding”. Lessons were to be learnt, and in the intervening decades millions in taxpayers’ funding has been poured into the area, and others like it, in the name of regeneration. The schools have enjoyed far greater levels of funding than their counterparts in areas whose youth does not demonstrate their boredom and dissatisfaction by violent destruction. The police have beant over backwards and spent disproportionate amount of time and resources in community policing, anti-gang strategies, Operation Trident, and countless initiatives to ‘reach out’, along with other government and voluntary organisations.

And yet, we get last night’s events, in response to the local police having the temerity to fire back at someone who had just shot one of theirs. Now, in the sense of deja vu that I increasingly seem to get from watching current affairs (I must be getting to a ‘certain age’) the same calls are being made again: for lessons to be learnt, for appeals to understand the ‘anger’. We hear the same breed of disgusting apologists for the violence – some even denying that it counts as ‘violence’.

Yet one lesson that, I fear, won’t be learnt is this: no matter how much taxpayers’ cash you throw at the area, no matter how much effort the likes of the police put into it, things will not change unless the people change. Not all of the people, mind, as I suspect most residents of Tottenham want nothing else but to get on with their lives in peace. It is the minority that poisons a neighbourhood.

Government largesse solves nothing. The deprivation that is talked about is not financial – that is but a symptom – it’s deprivation of responsibility, ambition and respect (real respect, not the warped moral code popular among ‘gangstas’). That means not blaming the police for not being ‘friendly’ enough, not expecting the politicians to ‘do something’, not blaming the system, the bankers, or society. It means not excusing the violence. It means not making excuses for people’s lack of achievement just because they live in Tottenham, or giving the youth an excuse for poor educational achievement because they are black.

For the authorities’ part, it means taking off the kid gloves and dealing with the gang culture, multiculturalism be damned.

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